Photo: IndyCar

IndyCar: DXC Technology 600 Recap

Leave a comment

Texas Motor Speedway has long been a controversial venue for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Initially so for the incredibly close, and at times frightening, pack racing that featured cars side-by-side, several rows deep, for lap after lap, recent years have seen a swing toward car setup and tire management defining the action more so than pack racing, though the debate has raged on about the quality of the show and its entertainment value.

Saturday night’s DXC Technology 600 was yet another chapter in that controversial debate, as the universal aero kit made its debut on the high-banked 1.5-mile oval. Indeed, it was far from a pack race, but pre-race concerns about passing, with some fearing the race would be “boring,” ultimately proved somewhat exaggerated.

The 600-kilometer affair was plenty entertaining, with action all over the place from the getgo.

A recap of Saturday night’s DXC Technology 600 is below.

Car Setup, Strategy, and Overtaking Combined for an Impressive Show

As previously described, Saturday night’s Texas race was not a pack race. But that didn’t mean it was boring, and there was passing aplenty throughout.

Zach Veach charged from 16th on the grid to run inside the top five in the first 100 laps. Marco Andretti put on a similar charge, also getting inside the top five in the first half of the race after starting 11th.

Alexander Rossi was his usual, hard-charging self, and he made particular use of lapped traffic to make up positions.

Pit strategy also shuffled the leaders around in the opening stints. Josef Newgarden led early, then Simon Pagenaud assumed the lead on Lap 73 after the first round of pit stops. Robert Wickens then made a pass on Pagenaud to take the lead on Lap 97.

And Scott Dixon then assumed the lead on lap 132 following a round of stops – he pitted a lap earlier than Wickens, and used a lap on fresher tires along with quick pit work to assume the lead.

And though Dixon dominated from there, the racing behind him was pretty frantic, as evidenced by the clips below.

And the drivers felt like the show looked good from where they were sitting.

“We passed a lot of cars,” detailed second-place finisher Simon Pagenaud. “It was a different kind of racing than what you’ve seen last year. I felt safe. I felt like I was really driving the car, really taking care of my tires, like I said. I had to think about what I needed. To me, that’s racing. To me, that’s the quality of being a racecar driver. I don’t know about the show because I got to watch the race. But to me it was pretty active. It felt pretty good.”

Race winner Dixon explained that the concerns raised in practice about a lack of grip came from running in the heat of the day, and the night time conditions were always going to yield more grip.

“It’s always tough at Texas because we do our practices during the heat of the day. The track changes significantly once we get to the nighttime. Once the track temp goes down, the grip really comes up. I had that sensation at the end of the last practice last night. Once the track temp started to come down, the grip level really came up. I knew it was going to be a pretty good situation for the race,” he explained.

While the package for Texas continues to be somewhat of a moving target – unsurprisingly, given that it is the only high-banked oval on the schedule – Saturday night’s race was thoroughly intriguing throughout all 248 laps.

Dixon Cements Legendary Status

Scott Dixon broke a tie with Michael Andretti for third on the all-time IndyCar wins by winning the DXC Technology 600. Photo: IndyCar

The legend that is Scott Dixon grew slightly more on Saturday, and not just because of the manner in which he won – it was another classic Dixon race in which he methodically worked his way forward after starting seventh and dominated after assuming the lead to make winning look almost easy.

Dixon’s legend grew because of where the win places him on the all-time win list now. Winning Race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit tied him with Michael Andretti for third all-time with 42 victories, and Saturday night’s triumph broke that tie to put Dixon into third place all by himself with 43 wins.

As such, the only two drivers ahead of him now are named A.J. Foyt (with 67 wins) and Mario Andretti (with 52 wins). Add in a pair of overall wins at the Rolex 24 at Daytona (2006 and 2015), along with a GT Le Mans class win in 2018, and Dixon has a lot of accolades on his resume…and those accolades legitimately place him among the sports all-time greats.

Humble as always, Dixon expressed gratitude for simply being able to race for a living, and he highlighted that being mentioned alongside Foyt and the Andrettis is icing on the cake.

“It’s really cool. Obviously I have massive respect for a lot of these drivers. But when you look at those names, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, the Unsers, to me it still seems very strange that ‘Dixon’ is on that list, too,” he revealed. “I feel very privileged and lucky to do what I get to do. I love racing. I love the Verizon IndyCar Series. I think it’s the best racing on the planet, one of the most difficult with all the disciplines. For me, man, I just hope it continues. I hope we can keep a winning style, pick up wins. It’s so difficult right now it’s so competitive.”

Dixon turns 38 in July, and though the number suggests he’s on the back end of his career, Dixon ain’t slowing down…at all. And there’s no telling what numbers he may amass in the remainder of his career.

Misc.

  • He continues to be overshadowed by teammate Robert Wickens, but James Hinchcliffe put in another solid drive on Saturday night to finish fourth. Not qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 will undoubtedly leave a big black mark on his season, but his results outside of that look like this: fourth, sixth, ninth, third, seventh, 11th, 16th, fourth. If not for Indy, Hinch may well be battling for a top five spot in the championship picture. Wickens may be stealing the headlines, but James Hinchcliffe is not to be forgotten.
  • The aforementioned Zach Veach and Marco Andretti suffered horrible luck in Texas. Veach brushed the wall, damaging a toe link, while Andretti suffered a broken clutch during a Lap 125 pit stop. Their misfortunes left them in 14th (Andretti) and 16th (Veach) on nights when they surely would have battled inside the top five. Both deserved better than the misfortune they suffered.
  • Charlie Kimball now has back-to-back top 10s for Carlin Racing – he finished eighth in Detroit Race 2 and 10th in Texas. Given that Carlin is still adapting to IndyCar competition, it’s a pair of solid results that show the team is making nice progress.

With that, the Verizon IndyCar Series takes a week off – though drivers like Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, and Sebastien Bourdais are headed to the 24 Hours of Le Mans as part of the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing effort – with the next IndyCar event being the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America (June 22-24).

Follow@KyleMLavigne

 

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Follow@KyleMLavigne